Go to any supermarket wine aisle or local corner shop, and you will no doubt find at least one inexpensive wine labelled as Languedoc-Rousillon, Languedoc or IGP Pays d'Oc. Languedoc-Roussillon has more than 700,000 acres (2,800 km2) under vine and is the single biggest wine-producing region in the world, being responsible for more than a third of France's total wine production. In 2001, the region even produced more wine than the entire United States, and the numbers are likely to have gone up since then.
While these are impressive stats for the area's economy, a number of winemakers have been working hard to make a name for the quality of its wine, not just its quantity. After all, Languedoc has a vibrant wine history, for example being the birthplace of sparkling wine (take that Champagne!) in 1531, by the monks at the abbey in Saint-Hilaire. The region also boasts a range of soils, aspects and microclimates.
Some of this new vanguard are born and bred in the region while others are from further afield simply fell in love with the place. The wines they make are obviously very different, but what binds them is an experimental attitude, great skill in blending, and a desire to showcase the South's indigenous varieties. Given its warm, dry climate the area has also become a bastion of organic and biodynamic winemaking, and naturally it's this particular scene that we'll be highlighting here.
One of the most interesting winemakers based in the historic centre of Limoux is Es d'Aqui, the micro-negotiant project of Jean-Louis Pinto. Making the wine himself in the cellar of his family home, Jean-Louis works only with fruit from organic and biodynamic vineyards and similarly, his work in the cellar is minimal, with no sulphur added to any of the cuvées. His stellar orange wines M&M Blanc and Orange Mauzanic are a blend of Mauzac/Muscat and varietal Mauzac respectively. Both have a core of fresh acidity and a spicy, saline depth with M&M also having a pronounced orange blossom perfume. His red Cinsauriel is 100% Cinsault, from a small plot of old vines south east of Faugeres and is a really concentrated punch of dark fruit flavours, with herbal notes and a blueberry acidity. A lighter red option is his M&M Rouge (Mourvedre and Muscat), an incredibly fresh red wine for the region, tasting principally of blackcurrants and cinnamon spice with a zesty spritz. Finally, perhaps as a nod to Limoux's sparkling wine history, he has also made a pet nat Conciliabule, a deep rosé pet-nat made from a blend of Grenache and Colombard.
Based deep in the Languedoc in the hills just north of Béziers, Axel Prüfer has built a reputation as an alchemist of sorts, working with vineyards in one of the hottest and driest parts of France to create delicate and ethereal wines steeped in rugged charm. Axel was born and raised in East Germany but moved to France as a young man to chase his career in wine making. He produces delicious wines naturally with the absolute minimum intervention possible – many of his wines also have no added sulphur.
Axel's lightest red cuvée, Avanti Popolo is a field blend of Carignan, Cinsault, Aramon and Muscat macerated on skins for just 10 days and bottled without sulphur or other additions. Almost a rosato, it's floral and invigorating with bright red fruit and earthy mineral notes from the rich alluvial soils. His Fou du Roi is equal parts Grenache, Carignan and Cinsault from vines planted in limestone, macerated in whole bunches for 15 days before being pressed off to rest for 9 months. It has an electric acidity with vibrant Summer fruit, wild herbs and an exquisitely soft texture.
His skin contact white wine La Peur du Rouge is Axel’s Chardonnay and Clairette with the Chardonnay macerated in whole bunches for 10 days before being pressed off and combined with the Clairette juice. Not quite an orange wine, this is a generous and finely woven white with ripe stone fruits, hints of nougat, baking spices and chalky limestone minerality. He has also recently collaborated with (in)famous natural wine bar Brutal to create a special cuvée for their label. This is Axel at his most avant-garde, being made from whole bunches of his finest Grenache macerated with skins for 11 months in stainless steel with absolutely no interference. It's more wild and full-bodied than the rest of his reds, with fleshy Grenache fruit, plenty of savouriness and a touch of volatile acidity.
Tom Lubbe of Matassa is originally from New Zealand, winemaking first in South Africa and then at Domaine Gauby in Roussillon before starting Matassa in 2003. Based down near the Spanish border, many of the vineyards are 60-120 years old, co-planted with different varieties on schist and marl. All the vineyards are worked naturally without herbicides or pesticides.
His Olla Rouge is a bright and fragrant blend of Grenache Noir, Syrah and Grenache Gris. Bottled without fining, filtration or sulphur, it's bursting with crunchy raspberry and blackcurrant fruit, violets and thyme. It's a must try for anyone who generally loves a Malbec but wants to try something new. Meanwhile, once again disproving the truism that the South of France doesn't 'do' interesting white wines, his Matassa Blanc is opulent and complex. Made predominantly from Grenache Gris with around 30% Macabeu, it has masses of fleshy stone fruit, chalky mineral notes and savoury pastry and baking spices.
So whether you're in the mood for a fuller bodied red or something lighter and more refreshing, have a look at our full range from the region here, or come in-store and find yourself something to try this weekend.